Archive for the ‘news & comment’ Category

the saga of wiki-leaks

December 1, 2010

This is a case study we’ll be citing for years to come, in the tradition of the Pentagon Papers.  Here are some resources for further reference: The Times, of course, has a huge analysis in perhaps it’s biggest story of the year. School of Journalism Prof. Bill Minutaglio’s column critical of general tendency of governments to lie, with the leaks being further confirmation. Although critics at the other extreme have called for the execution of the leakers (!), I can’t help but think that the same openness we demand of other countries like China is not so appealing when it applies to U.S. policy. Regarding, China, today’s column by Thomas Friedman should be a must read, a tongue-in-cheek take on wikileaks China style. It’s a classic.


blowback for failures in journalism

November 26, 2010

I’m putting together a new “signature” course in the fall, “Understanding 9-11,” and looking for possible readings.  In the obituary for noted political scientist and author Chalmers Johnson, the Times emphasized his work on the concept of “blowback,” the unintended consequences for American policy.  Journalism is implicated in this, because not only are international issues not well understood by the public, but that ignorance cycles back to drive emotional responses at later points in time.

Summarizing the series in “Dismantling the Empire,” Dr. Johnson said that “blowback” means more than a negative, sometimes violent reaction to United States policy. “It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public,” he wrote.

“This means that when the retaliation comes, as it did so spectacularly on Sept. 11, 2001, the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.”

The course will not be about journalism per se, but I propose to try to understand 9-11 through a journalistic lens.

the politics of climate change

October 21, 2010

Tea Party supporters are among the biggest skeptics of climate change, or global warming, in spite of the scientific consensus supporting it.  We’ll examine this issue in class Tuesday, but the case makes a good journalistic issue.  Where do these beliefs come from, and has science become unduly politicized by media pundits and political leaders?  As one Tea Party supporter in Indiana demonstrated, it’s a mix of echo-chamber media, coupled with a strong sense of paranoia, supporting beliefs that easily take on aspects of religious faith.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”

If journalism is based, in theory, on the pursuit of truth, then how are these beliefs to be addressed in reaching political consensus, when they are so clearly outside the realm of rational argument?  This is also a case where a balanced presentation of the competing views doesn’t yield a truthful account.

more hiring in investigative journalism

October 19, 2010

The Center for Public Integrity will merge with a Huffington Post operation to create a larger news organization for investigations.  That sounds like good news for the muckraking tradition:

“It would double our operation,” said Mr. Buzenberg, adding that the center expected to file 500 investigative reports this year, with a dozen of them being major projects. “I do feel like we’re filling a void on the for-profit side that’s being filled on the nonprofit side,” he added. “Because of cutbacks, they have fewer people and less time to do that.”

a journalist covers his own life

October 15, 2010

I had noticed a book back in the summer reviewed favorably concerning a reporter reconstructing the narrative of his own life during a long period of addiction. I forgot it was our visitor yesterday, David Carr.  You might be interested in taking a look–it illustrates that even in our own life our memories are not always consistent with what really happened, or with what others remember happening.  Sometimes we need help piecing it together.

the media “team”

October 11, 2010

David Carr (upcoming 310 guest) makes a number of important points in today’s column, noting the departure of The Washington Post’s starr media player Howard Kurtz to the online Daily Beast.

More and more, media outlets are becoming a federation of individual brands like Mr. Kurtz. Journalism is starting to look like sports, where a cast of role players serves as a platform and context for highly paid, high-impact players….On a journalistic level, the new playing field is more even. Many people see the news in aggregated form on the Web, and when they notice a link that interests them, they click on it with nary a thought about the news organization behind it. Information stands or falls on its magnetism, with brand pedigree becoming secondary.


the press in central america

October 10, 2010

The role of the press in Central America during the anti-communist policies of the Reagan Administration connects directly to our discussion of the McCarthy Era and the upcoming case on the El Mozote Massacre.  The Institute for Latin American Studies will host an interesting guest on Thursday, the Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Chomorro. This talk is open to the campus community.

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010,
5:00–7:00 PM
Reception to follow Benson Collection Rare Books Room For more information, contact Paloma Diaz at or 232-2415. Sponsored by LLILAS and the Harte Lectureship on Latin America and the Media

board of “education”?

September 21, 2010

Here’s a great example of claims and evidence from a watchdog group, critical of the State Board of Education, which i mentioned in class today.  Ask yourself whether the claim(s) of anti-Christian bias are sufficiently debunked.  Excellent exchange of comments below by the way on the Ole Miss post. 

Ole Miss’s diversity problem

September 20, 2010

Any discussion of diversity is rooted in the historical meanings of symbols, words, and ideas.  Nowhere is the history of the Civil War more keenly felt than on the beautiful historic campus of the University of Mississippi, where the mascot has been until recent years “Colonel Reb.”  Is it racial insensitivity or just as mascot, beloved by many alumni?  These things matter, as we’ll discuss.  Read more about it in today’s Times. But this kind of history, although seemingly harmless to some, is part of a general historical revisionism of the Civil Rights Era, as argued by the distinguished columnist Leonard Pitts.

It is the social and political equivalent of an extreme makeover. The thinking seems to be: when history collides with cherished self image, change history.
Something very similar seems to be afoot with regard to a related event much closer to us in time: the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s.
Just a few months ago, we saw conservative activist Glenn Beck claim ownership of that movement, in defiance of historical memory. “… We were the people that did it in the first place!” he cried.

Joining Beck are other figures, such as the current governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour! According to Pitts,

It was, he said, “my generation, who went to integrated schools. I went to integrated college — never thought twice about it.”
Barber is 62. In the Mississippi of his youth, he legally could not have gone to integrated schools.

progressive values vs. the backlash

September 15, 2010

Bad news in today’s Times concerning the hope that issues can be addressed on the basis of reason, a Progressive Era value.  Two articles point to two related developments:  first is the huge disparity in campaign support being funneled to and favoring the Republicans. Corporate donations, unleashed by the recent Supreme Court ruling (Citizens United), are flowing to influence more agreeable policies.  Second, the recent book Backlash, argues that the current anti-government mood is fueled in part by an echo-chamber of misinformation, unfiltered by traditional journalistic reporting

“The electronic media” — including the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and local talk radio imitators, as well as social networking forces like Facebook and Twitter — which have enabled “like-minded Obama naysayers” to come together “without actual journalists intervening to filter out untrue information like the canard about the president’s birth certificate.”

And from the standpoint of this class, that’s a problem.